Teresa Isasi
Kim Ok-vin and Song Kang-ho in "Thirst." Kang-ho plays a priest-turned-vampire struggling with his thirst for blood.

THIRST — ★★★ — Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-vin, Kim Hae-sook; with English subtitles (Korean dialects); rated R (violence, gore, sex, nudity, vulgarity, brief drugs, profanity, slurs); Tower Theatre

Just when you thought you'd seen everything that could possibly be done with vampires, along comes something like "Thirst."

The Korean-made horror-suspense film, which comes from Park Chan-wook, the writer/director of "Old Boy" and the "Vengeance" movies, takes the bloodsucker mythos and genre in some unexpected directions.

Among other things, it's an ethical thriller, an afterlife meditation and a drama that addresses issues of faith. It's also fairly creepy and is even quite funny at times.

Of course, the film is pretty bloody, and it's pretty explicit in terms of sexual content. As such, it's definitely not for those who are easily offended or for those with weak stomachs.

Stony-faced Chan-wook regular Song Kang-ho stars as Sang-hyun, a Catholic priest who definitely has the courage of his convictions. He even volunteers to be a test subject for an experiment that's intended to create a cure for an incurable, deadly virus.

Unfortunately, he dies from complications of the infection. But then, a tainted blood transfusion apparently revives Sang-hyun and turns him into some kind of vampire.

However, the priest is now struggling with his thirst for blood as well as his intense attraction to Tae-ju (Kim Ok-vin), a childhood friend who's now married to another former pal of his, Kang-woo (Shin Ha-kyin).

There's so much more to the film than just that, though. Just when you think Chan-wook has gotten the story stuck, it becomes crazier and more entertaining. In fact, the bloody final third might actually be the best, funniest part of the entire movie.

And as good as Kang-ho is as the conflicted man of God, the film is completely stolen out from under him by Ok-vin, who's terrific as the increasingly unhinged object of his affections.

"Thirst" is rated R and features strong, often disturbing violent content and imagery (vampiric attacks, stabbings, strangulations, vehicular violence and mayhem, sexual violence and violence against women), graphic gore and blood, simulated sex and other sexual contact, female and brief, full male nudity, crude sex talk and suggestive language, other off-color humor and references (including a flatulence gag), brief drug content and references (antidepressants and intravenous injections), scattered profanity (most of it fairly mild), as well as derogatory language and slurs. Running time: 133 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com